55 mph – the speed of our rental car making its way to Calvin College for the annual Symposium on Worship.
Three main sessions, six workshops/seminars, two plenary sessions, meals, reunions and conversations. All in three days (and that’s just what I attended).
Our lives move fast. Even conferences or retreats, “breaks from the routine,” are often fast-paced, even exhausting.
And so it was fitting that in the very first panel discussion I attended, the first words that would stick with me throughout the conference were these: “worship is slow.”
The panel wasn’t discussing what the tempo of worship should be, whether drums should be incorporated into the music or how loud they ought to sound. Nor was the panel discussing the rhythm of a worship liturgy or how much space should be allowed for silence.
No, the panel was discussing the formative power of worship and the fact that it works on us slowly.
Some of us have had dynamic experiences of worship at Granite Springs, moments where everything made sense and the gospel felt so real as we heard Scripture read over us. Others of us have had moments where the boundary between heaven and earth seemed to become thinner than we’ve ever experienced as we lifted our voice in worship. Still others may have had a beautiful sense of being bound together in the Body of Christ as we made our way with a diverse group of brothers and sisters to receive at the table.
But I’m not too hesitant to guess that most of us don’t have these experiences every week. For many of us, we don’t even have these experiences most weeks.
Most of the time, we come to worship, to hear and receive word and sacrament, with busy minds and restless hearts. We come with the best of intentions, but our faithfulness that morning is simply remembering when it’s time for us to move to our right and forward to receive communion.
And you know what? That’s okay. Because worship isn’t a microwave. Most of the time, worship isn’t just a song sung or a prayer prayed together that results in immediate life transformation.
Worship is a long, slow work that we do together each week, reorienting ourselves towards God that we might be gradually transformed. When the “breakthrough” moments happen, we rejoice and delight in the grace of God, knowing that the slow work of worship in our lives on all those Sundays when we didn’t “feel it” has been creating space for us to hear God.
The last session I attended at Symposium was led by Sandra McCracken, who talked about the need for practices that help us have a “spaciousness” around our heart, so that our hearts can in turn be enlarged.
It strikes me that worship is just such a practice. It creates the space around our hearts week in and week out so that when the Holy Spirit blows in his unique way, our hearts can be enlarged and receive the riches of spiritual blessing.
But we need not force it, friends. And we need not rush it. Despite a world that tells us to move quickly, and do it now, and best not wait until tomorrow, we don’t have to be paranoid when things don’t happen overnight. Because worship is slow.